And yet, “the optics” weren’t right, were they?
And here’s the reason: It is one thing to invite Eric Schmidt and Indra Nooyi, and even Steve Schwarzman. They didn’t crash the financial system.
But Dimon and Blankfein are leaders of institutions that every one knows, and major government investigations have confirmed, helped to cause one of the greatest financial catastrophes in history, one that shook the entire world, tipped 10 million into foreclosure, 23 million into joblessness, set back whole neighborhoods, whole communities for a generation or more. And on and on.
Forget that JP Morgan now owns Bear Stearns, one of the very worst of the worst, and Washington Mutual, so rife with corrupt incentives, banished whistleblowers, and predatory lending practices that it merited its own chapter in the meticulously documented Levin-Coburn report. Just a couple of stats: an internal review found fraud of one sort or another on 71% of loans sampled and “discrepancies or other issues” in appraisals. A second internal sampling turned up “excessive levels of fraud” in 42% of the files. Other reviews found evidence of fraud in 58%, 62%, and 83% of loans issued by various offices, the Levin report said (page 84).
But never mind that. As Ryan Chittum pointed out in pushing back against Dimon’s famed sense of victimhood, JPM itself is knee-deep in muck:
JPMorgan are the good guys, you see. Just ask Jefferson County, or talk to the lawyers in Chase’s mothballed debt-collections department, or the investors who lost hundreds of millions of dollars while JPMorgan profited big on a SIV, or the Lutheran nonprofit defrauded on a CDO that JPM built for Magnetar, or illegally foreclosing on and overcharging hundreds of troops while they were abroad, or the homeowners who got trampled in the foreclosure scandal, or the former who regrets the $2 billion in toxic loans he made in 2007 under “pressure from the top,” or the consumers who get screwed by Vertrue, etc. etc.
As for Goldman, do we really have to go through this? Apparently, yes. Besides those civil securities fraud changes (and doesn’t that count for anything?), it merits a huge chapter of infamy in any honest crisis history, and gets one in Levin-Coburn:
The Goldman Sachs case history shows how one investment bank was able to profit from the collapse of the mortgage market, and ignored substantial conflicts of interest to profit at the expense of its clients in the sale of RMBS and CDO securities.
But forget derivatives. How about how Goldman funded predatory lenders, like New Century, for years. And who remembers Litton Loan Servicing LP?
I mean, was it so long ago?
And by the way, if you want to learn more about any of this, one of the few crisis books in which you will not find it is Too Big To Fail, the blockbuster crisis book by Andrew Ross Sorkin, the Dealbook chief and engine behind the conference.
Eric Schmidt and Indra Nooyi head large publicly companies that the Times must cover. That’s one thing.
But The New York Times—published by a midcap company of uncertain prospects, reviled in some quarters—still retains (let’s face it) enormous prestige globally. JP Morgan and Goldman are tainted in a way the Times is not, never really has been, and will never be.
That’s why Dimon and Blankfein were there. Both CEOs and their institutions benefit from their association with the Times, which has allowed them center stage at a conference on public policy to discuss things other than their day jobs. (If it were about their day jobs, they’d never have agreed to go. And if they had agreed to go, all the seats at the Times Center would be taken up by their lawyers.) That they were allowed to headline a Times event is meaningful.
Conferences are fine. But the particular problem business-news organizations face now is that not only are they, like the rest of the news business, facing their own big financial problems, they are doing it in the wake of the meltdown of their central beat. They’re vulnerable, and they need the one thing that Wall Street can bring. It starts with “M” and rhymes with “honey.”